n Sept. 29, surrounded by friends and family, Jan A. Johnson died quietly at home. He was a strong man, in mind, spirit and body, and he held onto life the same way he lived it. His short struggle with cancer offered a lesson in how to approach death with dignity and grace. He and Mary were supported by a wonderful team of friends and family, in particular, Mary’s sister, Marjorie True, Nurse Practitioner, Dr. Ellen Anderson, Sooke Hospice.
Jan’s creativity and humor lives on in his art. A short walk around the house at Pascoe overflows with Jan’s unique vision of the world. Jan worked in welded steel and found objects, transforming metal detritus into new and challenging pieces to spark the imagination. His themes often took a whimsical approach to the human condition, using irony in steel to examine old and new myths.
Jan’s drive as an artist originated in the surrealistic school of the Indo-China wars. As a platoon leader in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, he experienced first hand the greed, cruelty, and venality which accompanies war and its political environment. This drama has fed his artistic inspirations and provided subject material for almost 50 years of work.
Jan was born in Hulette, Wyoming in January of 1943 at the same time his father was in the hospital recovering from being kicked by Blackie, a favorite horse, while out on the ranch caring for the cattle. Jan embodied the wisdom and caution of living in a harsh environment where friends and neighbours were essential and it was wise to keep in good terms with your neighbours, put tools back in their correct place, and watch for falling rock.
Although his art was the center of his life, Jan had a parallel professional life. Living and working internationally as a freelance transport economist for much of his professional life, Jan was known for his detail analysis, hard work, and ability to befriend people with extremely different backgrounds from himself and from each other.
Jan will remain in our memories, creating art wherever he went, be it welding tiny bureaucrats, animated creatures, or angry gods in his shop, sculpting an ear in the kitchen and nose in the bedroom, composing fleeting creations of rocks and driftwood on the beaches of Sooke, or combining a doll found at the dump with parts of the bicycle he never learned to ride in the yard. There was a special thing that happened when you were sitting at the round table with Jan, in the seats saved from the Jordan River pub. He would twist his mustache or eyebrows, chuckle, and tell stories in his low, melodic voice. Jan brought people together.
There will be a memorial service at the Pascoe home at a later date to be announced. An award has been set up in Jan’s name to be given at the Sooke Fine Arts Show for best art with a political message. If you would like to participate, please send donations to Sooke Fine Arts Society, Box 471, Sooke, BC, V9Z 1H4, Canada with “Jan Johnson” on the comment line.
Mary Alice and Carl Johnson and Mija Lee